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What is: The Mill BlackBird

The Mill Blackbird, released last year, was shown off as a car that could be filmed and would give animators the ability to simply wrap the body of other cars on top of the during post, so theoretically they would only ever need one type of car through filming. Recently the company have teamed up with Chevrolet to create something even more exciting.

The original Blackbird was already extremely impressive, with the untrained eye rarely able to differentiate between CG and reality, especially when it is applied to something like a car which will be moving at high speed and will likely be hidden slightly behind motion blur effects. This ability not only saves thousands of dollars during production in terms car rental costs, but it also saves days upon days of re-shoots during car scenes, often needed due to the car not looking how they wanted it to or a discrepancy in the way its engine sounded. Sound is another decent area for the original Blackbird, in that it was fitted with an electric motor that creates very little sound, but also was equipped with a  speaker system, that allowed them to simulate the sounds of the engine of any car, to use as a layer (as most sounds are done in post anyway).

Since the announcement of the original Blackbird, The Mill have formed partnerships/trade deals with many of the largest production companies in the world, and are fast becoming the industry choice for shooting vehicle-related scenes. Earlier this month they announced Chevrolet as their new Manufactory partner, and also announced they had been working with EPIC to use their Unreal Engine 4, not only to wrap high-detail models around the Blackbird but to do it in Real-time. Meaning rather than shooting the same shot over and over again using different wraps, needing the time to tighten up/clean the models afterward, you can simply run it a few times, viewing a few options each time, allowing you to come to a decision much quicker, and only spend time refining the colour scheme, car model they choose for the final revision (more likely a set of cars in real-life use, but theoretically could cut down on studio time, and time = money).

This, of course, has trade-offs in that when comparing Unreal Engine 4 to more industry level renderers such as Corona or even later V-Ray, the Real-time footage simply can’t hold up and this means that the time in post is pretty much balanced out between each method. However, being able to make real-time changes to situational variables such as global illumination, levels of dirt on the car, levels of motion blur on the car and some other miscellaneous factors. So if the Real-time is lower quality and not necessarily faster overall, what use is it beyond testing?

Well beyond testing there isn’t a whole lot of use, and in reality, a lot of companies will still choose to use high-end renderers such as corona or will hire the actual car, and use practical effects such as well-timed pans to get natural lens flare et cetera. However, consider this. You get say 10 Blackbird Unreal Rigs, and you put them on Le Mans, and let the driver create the body for the car, creating a mixed reality Whacky Races. Pretty cool, eh?

    Bailey Bridge

    The author Bailey Bridge

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